Perspectives Online

You Decide: Where will the jobs be?

The biggest single issue in today’s economy is jobs – or specifically – the lack of jobs. And it’s easy to understand why. Nationally, 7 million jobs have been lost since the recession began, and here in North Carolina the count is 250,000. Unemployment rates are in double digits for both the nation and our state.

Yet there is some good news. Although job losses are still occurring, the number has been getting smaller. Most economists now think the job market will turn around early in 2010, and job gains will become the norm.

But once new jobs begin to appear, other important questions arise. What industries and occupations will create the new jobs, and what kind of training will be required?

Fortunately we have some fresh answers to these questions. Every couple of years, the U.S. Department of Labor does a detailed analysis of job trends and gives projections for the next decade. Their latest report is hot off the press.

The forecasts show the national economy adding 15 million jobs over the next decade, roughly an 11 percent increase. North Carolina’s share would be 400,000, although if North Carolina grows faster than the nation – as I expect it will – the number of new jobs in the state would be somewhat higher.

Labor Department economists think the leading industries in job growth will be construction, professional and business services, education and health care. Also adding jobs but at a slower than average rate will be wholesale and retail trade, transportation, information, financial services, entertainment and leisure activities and government. Manufacturing and utilities will cut jobs.

Of course, manufacturing is still an important industry in North Carolina. So what does the report say about leading North Carolina manufacturers? For three of our traditional manufacturing industries – tobacco, textiles and apparel – the outlook isn’t good. Jobs will decline by 25 percent in tobacco, 40 percent in textiles and 50 percent in apparel. However, for the other North Carolina mainstay – furniture – employment is expected to increase modestly by 6 percent. This is in part because furniture production is forecast to jump by 50 percent over the course of the next decade.

The job outlook is mixed for North Carolina’s newer manufacturing industries. Jobs are projected to increase in pharmaceuticals and technology, hold steady in food processing but drop in motor vehicle parts. This despite the fact that production is expected to rise in all four industries. The way a firm can increase production while reducing or keeping steady the number of jobs is to increase the productivity (output per hour) of the workforce. Companies are able to do this by matching workers with modern machinery and technology – something that has been a long-term trend in manufacturing.

Now, what about the outlook for jobs in terms of occupations; that is, what will workers actually be doing? The Labor Department expects a continuing shift away from occupations requiring brawn and muscles to occupations utilizing brains and reasoning. The fastest job growth will be in managerial, professional, service and construction occupations. Slower growth is expected for sales, administrative support, installation, maintenance, repair and transportation occupations. Job losses are forecast in farming and production occupations.

This means more jobs will require some kind of formal schooling beyond high school. Indeed, the future job market will roughly be divided into thirds. One-third of the new jobs will require a community college or university degree. Another third won’t need a formal college diploma but will necessitate the worker undertaking extensive on-the-job training. The final third will use inexperienced workers and provide them only short-term on-the-job training. Of course, these jobs will pay the least.

Let me end with some specifics. The top 10 job positions generating the most openings in the next 10 years are expected to be registered nurses, home health aides, customer service reps, restaurant workers, retail salespersons, office clerks, accountants, nursing aides, college professors and construction workers. The full list can be found at

Good news or bad news – I’ll let you decide! But knowing what to expect in the job market will give job seekers an advantage in securing employment. -- Dr. Mike Walden

Dr. Mike Walden is a William Neal Reynolds Professor and North Carolina Cooperative Extension economist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics of N.C. State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.